Eating the Chicken Before Hatching the Egg
Raise your hand if you've ever had a flash of inspiration and thought, Holyshit this is going to be the best thing in the entire goddamned world. Now raise your other hand if you've actually gone through with it, and come out the other side with a polished story.
Double high fives for the people who have accomplished this feat! But for the rest of us normal human beings who haven't fallen into a vat of conveniently placed radio active material, let's explore the reasons why, for us, this never works.
#1: God Hates You, and Your Self-Esteem Sucks
Look at that header. Look at it. It's pretty harsh, I'll admit, but so is your psyche. The main killers of story ideas are usually the statements, "God hates me" (also cleverly disguised as, "My muse hates me," or, "The plot bunnies have stopped breeding.") and, "I don't think I can write this story."
Ever seen a drive-by shooting? Before you answer "no", take a look at this series of events:
A) Sam is going to kiss Dean (on the lips) right before he jumps into that box-hole, but the hole closes up before he can get to it, and now he's got to live with Satan mulling about in his head and the fact that he kissed his brother -- holy crap I am a genius!
B) Wait a minute. Why did the hole close up? And wasn't Sam barely able to wrest control away from Lucifer in time? How's he going to keep the Devil under control now?
C) Hold the phone -- I don't know how to write Satan! I want this to be lighthearted, but if he's in the mix, it'll be all angsty, and I can't do angst!
D) I don't have enough time to write this! Not only do I have to build up some sort of relationship between the brothers, I have to juggle with the fact that the apocalypse is still going on.
E) It was an awesome idea, but I've got to do a lot of research first, then I should probably outline the chapters so I don't get lost and everything's in its proper place.
You've just shot your idea and killed it to death. Oh, sure, you've got pages and pages of research material, and you've even found a sigil that will totally lock up Lucifer inside Sam's mind -- hell, you've even outlined the whole damned 50,000 word story! That's got to account for something, right? Right?
#2: Why All Your Efforts Are Fruitless
One of the most useful techniques an author can utilize is the easy-to-use, tried and true method of outlining.
It will also beat up your story in dark alleys for loose change and testosterone-induced kicks.
Look into the face of evil.
Let's face it. Organization can be addictive. It's quick, it's gritty, and it lets you see your entire story in one easy-to-swallow capsule. Why should you have to go stumbling around in the dark, after all? You're the author, dammit! That practically makes you God!
A cruel, capricious God.
For the increasingly plot savvy, outlines are a handy tool. For everyone else, they're the Devil's handiwork.
So, what, you're telling me I should just blindly guess what's going on in my story?
Not at all! I'm telling you that you shouldn't be afraid to just blindly guess what's going on in your story.
#3: The Art of Bullshit
It is important to remember that all fiction is lying. So when you tell your parents that you haven't been smoking, your lips just caught on fire, it's basically the same thing as writing historical fiction set in the 1800s and saying the characters are using cell phones. It doesn't make much sense, and in either case it's good to make sure what you're saying sounds realistic.
But that's what research is for, isn't it? You're just doing your job, as a good writer, to get your facts straight!
If you want to study up on conspiracy theories about the technological advancements of the 19th century, maybe dabble in a little bit of free masonry for good effort, then go ahead, be my guest. But while you're perusing Google for articles that may or may not exist, I'll just tip-toe on over here and slap a "steampunk" label on my historical fiction story.
That's right. I'm a cheating cheater who cheats. But while you're still trying to justify your inconsistencies, I'm already half-way through chapter two. It's a little trick I like to call bullshit, and it's extremely helpful when you're writing a story without any direction to take it in.
#4: Suspended Disbelief, and Writing In The Moment
This method isn't for the people whose minds work a mile a minute. It isn't for the people who can take a piece of string, a paper clip, and a Taiwanese baby, and come out the other end with a fabulous plot. If you can connect the dots on a Mona Lisa outline with your eyes closed using nothing but a pen strapped to your big toe, this advice isn't for you, and frankly, I have no idea why you're not out in the world making millions of dollars off of your incredible talents.
This is for the person who came up with one line of dialogue, and is aching to write an entire novel based off of it. This is for the person who figured out the middle, but has no idea what happens at the beginning or the end. This is for the person who hit a block or asked a question, and is now one-hundred percent certain they can't finish the story until they've figured out every tiny little detail of their struggling plot.
This is for you.
Suspended Disbelief is defined by Wikipedia as:
[A] formula for justifying the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literature. ... [I]f a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.
In other words, you lie. You lie through your teeth, and if you do it well enough, people will praise you for your talent.
Well, fine. I lie, I cheat, but I still have no idea what I'm writing about.
Put down your internet and take a drive. It's October. If the leaves haven't already fallen off the trees, I'm certain it's pretty out. While you're out there, look around you. You see the road, obviously, but driving on it is basically a reflex at this point. The buildings are blocking part of the sky, and you can't see over the next hill, but you're fairly certain the road won't careen off into a ditch and turn your Mazda into a screaming metal death trap. A map is pretty handy if you've got a destination in mind, but if you're not exactly sure where you're going -- fuck it. Pick a road and see where it takes you. Chances are you'll be able to get back eventually, even if you have to backtrack a little bit.
Writing without a plot is sort of like taking a drive. So what if it's nighttime? So what if you can't see beyond the meager surroundings flooded by your high beams? As long as you can get from Point A to Point B, you'll be fine -- even if the distance between the two is two steps, four steps, a couple hundred feet.
You don't know where you're going. So what? That doesn't mean you've forgotten how to drive.
#5: Method to the Madness
Now that I've exhausted my store of automobile analogies, I'll do the glaringly obvious thing and use a few personal examples to better describe what I'm talking about.
Basically everything I write has had as much pre-planning given to it as one might put in the preparation of cereal. It's not that I don't have ideas, it's just that most of them are completely unrelated and don't seem to fit together cohesively. You can't write an RPS fic and throw two actors in a closet together, start in on the sexy times, and then toss around a couple fangirl pirates from outer space.
Or can you?
I've certainly tried.
Point is, sometimes the age old Rules of Writing stand true: When all else fails, add zombies.
No one said it would be pretty.
If you've milked a scene dry, don't be afraid to throw something new violently into the mix. You've been writing the build-up to a sex scene for the past couple hours, but now that it's gotten to that point you just can't seem to bring yourself to write the main act? Someone knocks on the door. Character A is about to kill Character B, and you can't seem to find any way out of it? Why, hello there random earthquake. You've written yourself into a paper bag and you can't get out? Deus ex machina that bitch.
A couple personal examples of writing without a plot:
Lucifer is best at two things: Manipulation and Deceit. Castiel hasn't been Castiel for a very long time, and with nothing left to hold onto, Dean spirals down into a pit of torture and degradation.
==> Written for the spn_j2_bigbang challenge. 33,500 words of groping blindly in the dark. I had an idea ("Hey, what if Castiel was really Lucifer in disguise?") and an opening line ("There is something about silver that sickens the senses and slickens the soul.") and... basically that was it. How? Why would I do this to myself? Aside from the very obvious fact that I'm a literary masochist, there is the reasoning that... it's really not as hard as it sounds. Sure, it might seem like walking blindfolded at first, but it doesn't take long to realize that you've still got four other senses to work with.
METHOD: Step-by-step, with lots of short term goals. The beginning went from, "I should probably write about Dean now," which lead to, "Dean would probably be hunting," which brought up, "Where's Sam?" which birthed the idea that, "Sam and Dean got into a fight, so Lucifer!Cas is totally gonna take advantage of that," which spiralled into, "Dean loves his brother, so he's probably torn up by the argument." Step by step by step by step, until the pieces started fitting into place. There was a lot of heavy editing once I'd finished, mostly for consistency and to add in a few sentences here and there to cover my tracks.
Guess Whose Been Invited For Tea?
Children throw the best tea parties.
==> I'm going to have to spoil this one for any potential readers -- sorry. The inspiration for this came from the movie "Hancock." I saw the kid in the movie, and felt the urge to write a child of my very own. I didn't know who was invited for tea. In the midst of writing this, I was just as curious as anyone reading it. A few paragraphs in, and my mind supplied "angel", so I thought, okay, cool, we'll bring in Castiel. When the little girl asked for the stranger's name, my mind basically screamed at me, LUCIFER.
METHOD: Discovery. Sometimes that's the most fun thing about writing -- discovering your characters at the same instant you're creating them.
Basically, if you're writing without a plot, try to write like you're reading from a book. It's okay to skip ahead a few pages to make sure your favorite character doesn't die, but if you flip to the very end, that just spoils the whole thing. Unless, of course, you're starting from the end.
#6: In Conclusion
So, now that I've gone on my spiel about how to do things, how do you write? Plot or no plot? Outline or no outline? Do you feel comfortable writing a smaller story with no foundation to start off with? What about a larger story? Have you ever dropped an idea because it seemed "too big" and you just didn't know where to start? Have you ever dropped an In-Progress story because you weren't sure where to go with it? What methods do you use? What techniques work best for you? Was this workshop helpful? Did I just waste fifteen minutes of your life that you will never be able to get back?
I'm dying to know.
*All images were taken from Google Images.
**Any likenesses in the above fictional scenarios to real stories are purely coincidental.